In both the first reading and the gospel, we hear this account of these experiences before God, which the church would call mystical experiences. They both took place in nature. The first one we hear, God took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you can.” I want you to think about how beautiful that is. Anytime you’ve been outside in the dar, looked up at the great stars, and were overtaken by beauty. And as he walks them through that, the sun would set; it was dark. Abram experienced this trance that falls upon him and this deep, terrifying darkness that envelops him. In this trance, he experiences a beautiful encounter with God. We hear a very similar account with Jesus. He’s out in nature. He’s up on the mountain top, this cloud of glory surrounds him, and he encounters the same kind of experience of the Father. The Father speaks to him out of the cloud and says to him, “This is my chosen Son. Listen to him.” Peter’s reaction is that he wants to stay in this moment forever. There’s something so beautiful and profound about it that he doesn’t want to leave, and so he says to Jesus, “Lord let us build three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Let us stay here forever.”
I want you to think about moments in your life. Have you ever had a moment in your life, or probably numerous moments, where you thought, ‘I wish I could stay in this moment forever? I’ve been thinking about that this last week. Preparing for this and just meditating on those moments in my life where I wish I could stay forever, or at the time I wished I could stay forever. A lot of them happened in nature. I remember growing up; I called him the glory days of summer. These would be the times when my brothers and I would take off on our bikes, and we had these woods by us we called the monkey trails. We went there, and there were dirt mounds, and we would BMX bike all day long through the trails and on the mounds. There were moments where I thought, ‘I wish I could stay here forever. I hope I don’t have to go to school on Monday’. They were beautiful times. I think about vacations with my family. The first time that we went on vacation was to Mohican. We went and stayed at the lodge. We spent our days at the pool, and we would go down to the lake, rent a boat, and spend our days there.
Those were times when I thought, ‘I wish we could stay here forever. I grew up with a family, and they would go waterskiing for the whole week, and so when I was young, I would go with them. The first time I ever got out on water waterskiing, like walking on water, and I thought, ‘I wish I could stay in this moment forever. Our family had a family, liked to go to a club grounds. That we used to go to, so, we went as often as we could. I’ll never forget one summer all of us kids were there. We were fishing on a dock, and it was a beautiful sunny day. The sun was coming down on the dock, you could see through into the water, and through the water, the fish were swimming. It was just my siblings and me on the dock, and it was one of those times where I thought, ‘I wish I could live in this moment forever.
I remember the first night I went to sleep at the seminary. I had put off my calling for priesthood my whole life. When I finally went to sleep my first night at the seminary, I remember going to sleep, and I was so happy that I was finally doing God’s will. I felt such great peace that I wanted to experience that moment forever.
So, we grow up. I remember the times when my nieces and nephews were born. I’ll never forget every one of them. I always ask my siblings to spend the holy hour with them to hold them in my arms on my chest for an hour. Those were moments for me that were just so wonderful and so beautiful. I remember going to a priest after confession. This priest gave the best bear hugs. When you go to confession, he would hug you and let go until you were ready. I remember one of those times, the first time I went to him for admission; it was just so wonderful to pour my heart out, but then experience that unconditional love where he just wrapped his arms around me. It was an image of heaven.
I remember my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary, that wonderful time celebrating with the family. They’re both now deceased, but I look at that moment as just one of the happiest times of my life.
When I was in the seminary, there was a moment when I had a mystical experience. It was at adoration. I was on retreat, and there was this adoration Chapel there, and I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament. As I was praying, I don’t even know how to describe this experience; that’s why it’s mystical. But while I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament, I experienced this union with God, an experience of being in the presence and being one with the Trinity, one with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I don’t know how long that moment lasted. It could have been thirty seconds, seconds; it could have been a half-hour. When it was over, I remember my heart feeling torn, like I wished I could stay in that moment forever. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that was a glimpse of heaven.
We hear all of these things like the famous phrase ‘all good things must come to an end, right? We know that phrase. When we listen to it, that usually means we will often say that all good things must come to an end at good times like that. That is just a reality of our earthly pilgrimage, that while we’re on earth, we’re not in heaven yet. We experience glimpses of it. We have moments where we share this unity with God, heaven, and earth. These moments that we have that are given to us help us realize how good and how precious our lives are. Those are the moments that make life worth living. Those are the moments that allow us to go through suffering in our lives.
Just after this account, Jesus would begin to enter into his final pilgrimage of passion. It was after this encounter, this wonderful mystical experience of Jesus with the Father, where he hears the Father affirm him and say, “You are my beloved Son.” When we come here to Mass and gather around this altar, we come to the mountain. We come here to experience God, and I hope that at some point in our lives, every one of us experiences this mystical union, this mystical encounter before the Eucharist. Because after receiving that here, we can then go out into the world. We can then go back to our ordinary lives and endure whatever passions may come because we know how beloved we are. We know how good God is.
As we enter more deeply into this season of Lent, I invite you to take the time to do that. Look back on your life and try to think of the moments that you thought, ‘Wow”; I wanted to stay there forever because those moments help give us the grace and the beauty of how good God is, how good life is, and out of that, we are much more able to enter into the passion, the death, and ultimately, the resurrection of our Lord.
So that’s your homework. You could even do that in the car ride home. Talk to each other and say, “What was the moment in your life you wish could last forever.” Come and make a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament and look back on your whole life and think about those moments. You’ll find yourself so filled with joy and gratitude and goodness and love that you’ll then be able to enter into the paschal mystery, which is the suffering, the death, and the rising. When we’re in heaven, ultimately, those moments will last forever.